An Impressive Endorsement

Brian Ulrich has a very good and idealistic post explaining his endorsement for the Presidential election next year.

One day a couple of summers ago, I was wandering with some friends through the streets of Madaba, Jordan, looking for a hotel. We met a man who told us we were on the wrong side of town, but who insisted on closing his shop to give us a ride, saying that he was planning to go to New York in November and hoped people there would do the same for him. On that same trip, I had a taxi driver from Irbid, who asked if it was true than in the United States Muslims, Jews and Christians all lived together peacefully. A friend said it was, and he replied that he wished he could live in a place like that. Later, I went into Syria where I met a politically minded man who had many quarrels with American policy toward Iraq, Israel and the world at large, but who also spoke about American freedom and democracy as among the highest ideals toward which the peoples of the world aspired.

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of whether that man in Madaba would have gotten rides from random New Yorkers, but he and the others I have just mentioned were to something about America, something highlighted even more a few weeks later on September 11, 2001. That day, 19 members of a terrorist organization whom many would see as the face of Islam killed 3000 Americans at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

One of my professors was at a conference in Istanbul that day. When he returned, he told us that one thing he had noticed there was that people who had always seen the U.S. through a lens of flashy Hollywood movies and newscasts saw this country in a way they never had before, as for the first time the politicians and action heroes were displaced by police and firemen and medical workers. And even a cursory glance through the media shows that on that day, the world mourned as flowers were left at embassies, moments of silence were observed, and Arab students sitting in a Gulf classroom angrily announced the attacks as haram, a word the use of which would normally be punished but on this day was not as people who knew very well that al-Qaeda’s threats extended to more than just the U.S. wondered who might be next, and as all could see that the victims of these attacks were of a multitude of creeds and nationalities, drawn to these shores by a dream and an idea with which this nation is forever associated.

That idea, the idea touched upon by the Irbid taxi driver, the Madaba shopkeeper, the Syrian idealist and many others I have met over the years is community. For at the core of our being, Americans are builders of communities, and all our many debates revolve around one single question: How do we make our communities better.

Wow! My bad, cynical side wanted to ridicule all political leaders, but his post is too uplifting and moving.

You’ll have to go to Brian’s blog to find out who he endorsed.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

23 thoughts on “An Impressive Endorsement”

  1. Funny, a couple weeks after 9/11 I started surfing the net to find out what people in the Middle East thought of the attack and the first thing I found was a newspaper in Jordan with a web page of censored stories (one’s which they had written but had not been allowed to publish).

    One of the stories was a puff piece where the author talked about how every one he’d met for the previous week – from grocery store clerks to taxi drivers – was delirious with happiness that America got what she deserved.

    Another censored story was titled “Why do Americans love Jews” Another puff piece, this one wondering why we were so foolish as to not hate Jews like all wise people do.

    I don’t know where Brian found these liberal Jordanians but I suspect that their liberalism was a momentary tug of concience, easily forgotten in the hubub of official xenophobia.

    But the rest of the essay is strikes me as very childish. I imagine the comic book guy from the Simpsons muttering “Worse. Liberation. Ever.”

    Yeah, right. Iraqis now have every opportunity to build a working society. If they work hard and succeed they will deserve the credit but if they dont’, they themselves will have earned the blame.

  2. I wasn’t intending to represent all of Jordanian society – I was mainly trying to make points about the U.S., not the Middle East. I think in general social relationships people are more likely to be outspoken if they agree with you than if they don’t. I do think, however, that living in a country for two months is a better way to get the feel of it than surfing the net in a time of internation tension.

  3. Brain, You’re arguing that the ten minutes Joshua spent surfing the web has given him a poorer understanding abotu Jordan than the three months you lived there?

    Joshua knows, from web-surfing, taht your experiense in Jordan wewre unrepresentatives. Articles ont eh net are rperesentative of what people think. Discussions with people will give you no insight into what is going on.

    If you don’ty understadn this, yuou clearly don’t understand the revolutionary potential of blogging. Joshua has seen the truth by trolling the net, while your ‘real-life experience’ has made you confused and mushy minded.

  4. That’s ok Ikram, my cell phone beeped that it’s out of batteries 5 minutes ago, so this posting will be haphazard too.

    I realize that the uhm 12 months I spent “trolling the net” told me more about what get’s printed in newspapers, printed in text books, said in political speeched and religious sermons than it taught me about what individuals in a specific area think and feel. But an intelligent person can infer and glean a lot.

    But one thing I’ve always been good at recognizing is a no win situation which is just what Brian set up for us in his posting. In his view the liberation of Iraq wasn’t good enough despite being probably the cleanest, fastest and least damaging of such events ever.

    I submit that of course we lost the hearts and minds of Jordanians – they live inside the most successful and least honest propaganda system on the planet and in one of the most xenophobic cultures. The harsh truth is that Brian was taken in by it as well. Yep we contend with similiar problems in Iraq as well, but to claim that doing what’s clearly near the pinnacle of what’s possible and what has ever been done is a failure is just the sort of neurosis I expect from the Middle East. Nothing but.

  5. BTW it should go without saying that I picked the example I gave – one of many – because it compressed my experiences artistically. That is to say that it serendipitously illustrated much more than it had a right to. If you don’t have the skill and time to write long scholarly treateses, one can hope to communicate in a with an analogy or a couple lines of poetry what you would prove in 2000 pages of footnoted research.

  6. I’ll say this again: Had I been profiling Jordan, I would have mentioned some people whose views weren’t so rosy. (A taxi driver in Amman who said it was too bad Hitler didn’t get all the Jews comes to mind.) But I was actually leading into a discussion of the United States from what I thought was a different perspective than most usually look at. I haven’t said the occupation has failed…note I said it hovers between responsive government and chaos. Unfortunately, I have the suspicion that Bush’s team may lead into the second.

  7. Joshua- Something bothered me about your comments, and I just now figured out what. I talked about individual human beings from another background from whom I gained some interesting insights that affect how I view myself as an American, a couple of whom I’m still in touch with. You just looked at the part of the world they were from and dismissed them. We can debate issues related to the Arab world all we want (I’ve had a couple of posts about anti-Semitism in that part of the world.), but let’s let people be people and not always assume they think exactly the same way as everyone else who speaks their language.

  8. It was the sylogism

    We’ve lost the hearts and minds of Jordanians because we’ve screwed up the liberation (by the uncaring Bush Administration) that struck me as being tainted by the touch of propaganda from two sources.

    1. Middle eastern propaganda always claims that Americans are doing horrible things. Yet it is clearly cover – that would be said no matter what we do, we will ALWAYS be hated by Jordanians “for what we’re doing” because their propagandists will always find some to spin about us.

    2. The “Bush is incompetent/evil/uncaring” meme is part of American propaganda. I voted for Ralph Nader in the last two elections. I’m currently registered Democrat and that’s a move to the right for me (I was Green before). But even I recognize that this meme is the spin from American political partisans. I believed GW was probably a fool myself, until seeing that his actions in the Middle East did represent a vision that could improve the world – a vision that all of the alternatives lack. Having a workable vision is not the hallmark of an idiot or an uncaring man.

    So it’s not about Jordanians at all, its about confusing cause and effect in the case of Jordanian attitudes and it’s about promolgating shallow partisan slander of the President and it’s about both of these setting up American to an unwinable standard. No matter what we do we will be judged as failures and our motives will be impuned as impure and uncaring.

  9. Joshua: What can I say, you don’t make much sense here. If the Jordanian media or government is bad, that does not mean that everyone in Jordan is a nutcase. There are good people everywhere and nutcases as well. Plus you forgot that Brian’s post was not about Jordan or anti-semitism or anti-Americanism but about endorsing a presidential candidate.

    Brian: Your post was very eloquent and I did not think it would inspire such response from a reader of mine. Anyway, I think you have done a good job defending it here and I don’t have much to add to that.

  10. Zack I take it that you completely disagree with the most emphatic statement I made about the attitudes of Jordanians, which was:

    “I submit that of course we lost the hearts and minds of Jordanians – they live inside the most successful and least honest propaganda system on the planet and in one of the most xenophobic cultures.”

  11. By the way, I wasn’t trying to slander Jordanians, I was pointing out a flaw in Brian’s logic.

    Since Jordanians would hate us no matter what we do, you can’t take their current disapproval as a sign that our policies are flawed. If the opposite, their approval is inconcievable, how can their disapproval be construed as meaningful?

  12. I submit that of course we lost the hearts and minds of Jordanians – they live inside the most successful and least honest propaganda system on the planet and in one of the most xenophobic cultures.

    I am not a fan of superlatives. I agree that there are lots of problems in the Arab world. But I am not very familiar with Jordan and so can’t say anything intelligent about the country or its people.

    Since Jordanians would hate us no matter what we do,

    I disagree with that. As I have said before, there are all kinds of people everywhere and they might or might not be reasonable.

    you can’t take their current disapproval as a sign that our policies are flawed. If the opposite, their approval is inconcievable, how can their disapproval be construed as meaningful?

    I agree that someone’s approval or disapproval is not a sign of the correctness or otherwise of our policies. However, the ostensible purpose of our policies in the region is to promote liberal democratic values. How can we do that if everyone there hates us?

  13. Actually, Jordan is definitely a country where many people take pride in being a “moderate” state. And a huge percentage of those I met there knew people in the U.S. The media, while restricted, is much more open than in some places. So it really doesn’t fit the MEMRI stereotype that well.

  14. “However, the ostensible purpose of our policies in the region is to promote liberal democratic values. How can we do that if everyone there hates us?”

    Hmm. And that was suppposed to be easy? The propagandists were going to start praising us when we do good works?

    Ok, let me take the logic of your statement a bit further. Tell me, what wonderful deeds could we do to stop people from hating us in the remaining axis of evil countries?

    Exactly how should we behave to gain the love and respect of Syrian and North Korean pundits? Of course that’s not possible.

    I think I’ve made the same point again – you’re setting the bar higher than God himself could reach, it’s absurd beyond absurd beyond absurd. It’s argumentation by misrepresenting reality.

    Obviously we have a task of crashing the party – of breaking into the discourse of the Middle Eastern media/politics/education etc. and opening them up. Ok, Jordan isn’t the worst case, but in some cases nothing short of military threats can create enough enough pressure to create even a little breathing room.

    If there’s every an opening in Saudi Arabia’s discourse, you can bet that it wouldn’t have happened without the destablizing influence of the liberation of Iraq.

    There’s a more modest goal that would still be a big improvement – and we’re doing the right things to bring it about. If we DO manage to bring Iraqis a better life, we may be an official Satan to all of the bullshit intellectuals and flaks in Egypt, but some reality will seep through – cracks will show in the facade, and slowly, perhaps in a generation, Egyptians will begin to doubt the truth of what they’re being told.

    That’s the sort of change we can really hope for. The current generation may always hate us… But children are likely to see the world as it appears today, not as it appeared to their parents, no matter what their parents tell them.

  15. I think anything you’re seeing in Saudi Arabia has more to do with internal politics there than Iraq. There’s a succession coming up, and everything is jockeying for position within the new regime. Syria and North Korea don’t have pundits, just government mouthpieces. My sense is that many Egyptian intellectuals are watching closely to see what we do. I’m not convinced people in the two remaining axis of evil countries do hate us: Certainly many in Iran don’t, and I doubt anyone can claim to speak for the people of North Korea.

  16. The propagandists were going to start praising us when we do good works?

    The propagandists, no. But if you think everyone in the Middle East is either a propagandist or believes in that propaganda, you are sadly mistaken.

    Also, if you knowledge of the Middle East is exclusively from the internet, then it is very skewed.

    what wonderful deeds could we do to stop people from hating us in the remaining axis of evil countries?

    Is that the official “axis of evil”? We can do a lot of things and quite a few of them will make things worse in the medium to long term. The question is what do we want and have we thought through the consequences of our action or inaction. Plus, is military action the only option?

    Iraq right now is in a critical state. It’s not a failure of the Bush administration yet, but it could very well become one. It seems to me that the Bush administration is not well-suited to the task of making it a success, but I am keeping my fingers crossed.

    in some cases nothing short of military threats can create enough enough pressure to create even a little breathing room.

    Like Unqualified Offerings said: “Maybe it’s a coincidence, but doesn’t it seem like everybody on the planet has enemies who, they tell us, only understand force? Do we all have the same enemy or something? Because if we do, it should be easy to gang up on the bastards.”

    About Iraq’s effect on Saudi Arabia, I think Brian is correct.

    The current generation may always hate us… But children are likely to see the world as it appears today, not as it appeared to their parents, no matter what their parents tell them.

    Are you really that naive?

    I think the best we can hope for in Iraq is to do a good job of reconstruction and neutral feelings from Iraqis. They will never be grateful to the US for all the liberty and democracy we brought them even if we succeed spectacularly. That’s just how human beings are. Yes, we might have good relations with a liberal democratic Iraq down the road, or they might oppose us as well.

  17. Brian, I wasn’t talking about the little we’re seeing in Saudi Arabia now (which I disagree with you about – I think Al Qaeda’s direct threat to the monarchy is the pressure causing the current change as much as we are).

    I was talking about a real opening in the future some time. If THAT happens then I think Iraq will be a major cause.

    Zack, who’s looking for gratitude? Who said we care if they “oppose us”? As long as they don’t make us a real enemy and send weapons to Al Quada or some other terrorist group.

    Talk of gratitude and puppetry is the sort of shallow misdirection that one gets from the crude manipulative discourse that replaces all rational thought in the Middle East. This from someone who claims that not everyone is affected by propaganda.

    A little minimal sanity is the welcome change I’m hoping for. When a generation of Arabs have grown up who see people, infidel or not, as essencially the same, who take responsibility for themselves instead of blaming Jews and Americans and who stop (and have contempt for) the crazies instead of tolerating (or celebrating!) violent Jihad then our problems with the middle east will be long over.

    You know, the Japanese are as friendly to Americans as any people on earth and we didn’t so much liberate them as invade their country.

    I’m talking about responsiblilty not gratitude. We have a friendly relationship with the Japanese because the Japanese take responsiblity for themselves. The Japanese focus on the present not the past, and are too wise to poison their lives with grudges and so they have no reason to fear us. They also understand that the nature of democracy and open societies is one of continuous change at all levels… They know that it makes no more sense to blame Americans or their current government for what happened a generation ago than it makes sense to blame us for the crusades…

    I hope the irony of that last statement isn’t lost on you. There are even Muslims who don’t see that still harboring resentment over the crusades is the very pinnacle of self-destructive insanity available to the human mind. You say you don’t like superlatives. I don’t like them either – except when the situation is completely unacceptable and far worse than people are willing to face. In that case avoiding superlatives is just a concession to the denial of reality – to deny the horror of the situation is to consign yourself to uselessness. So the degraded state of much Muslim thinking begs for the use of superlatives.

    “The current generation may always hate us… But children are likely to see the world as it appears today, not as it appeared to their parents, no matter what their parents tell them.”

    Are you really that naive?

    Look out for that word “naive”. It comes from old French roots meaning “original nature”.

    A failing society can make people far worse than nature on it’s own – look to the hatred in Palestine for an example. It’s easy to see that children’s original nature is often superior to the hostile, paranoids we can socialize people into being.

    Besides “fatalism” may well be the opposite of “naivete” and it’s not an uncommon insight that fatalism is self defeating therefor far more naive than naivete. Fatalism guarantees failure – and there’s nothing less sophisticated than unnecessarily accepting zero probabality of improvement of a bad situation.

    I have little hope that Muslims will soon be as sane and friendly as Japanese people who aren’t saddled with Hadiths telling them that even God says that infidels are victimizing them. A victim’s mentality is the opposite of health. But I don’t think that Muslims will be able to keep a few sane ideas out of their cultures forever.

  18. Joshua:

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. But that’s a statement where you’ll either believe me or you don’t, and I don’t think you do. Your last reply is too much to go into at once.

  19. Joshua:
    Zack, who’s looking for gratitude? Who said we care if they “oppose us”?

    Good to see that you are not among those nutcases who think that France, for example, is our enemy.

    When a generation of Arabs have grown up who see people, infidel or not, as essencially the same, who take responsibility for themselves instead of blaming Jews and Americans

    Like I said you are showing your ignorance here. The anti-Americanism in the Middle East was difficult to find when I was growing up. It is a recent trend and has gotten much worse with the Iraq war and Bush’s macho stance. We don’t know what will happen to the generation that is growing up now. Will they see the US as a nice, benevolent hegemon or a nasty superpower?

    the Japanese are as friendly to Americans as any people on earth and we didn’t so much liberate them as invade their country.

    Do you know Japanese history beyond the basics of World War II? Do you know that they were on th eliberal track for a while before moving to militaristic nationalism in the 1930s?

    There are even Muslims who don’t see that still harboring resentment over the crusades is the very pinnacle of self-destructive insanity available to the human mind.

    It is indeed crazy to bear a grudge for the crusades now. However, from my personal interaction with a number of educated, useful members of Pakistani society who profess anti-American feelings nowadays, I can say that the crusades are not something anyone other than the real crazies think about.

    Besides “fatalism” may well be the opposite of “naivete” and it’s not an uncommon insight that fatalism is self defeating therefor far more naive than naivete.

    I am not arguing for fatalism. I am only saying that war is not the only answer. There are a whole host of things we can do. Plus we need to think a lot about the consequences of our actions before committing to something. The idea that we are good and the others are evil is not going to help us develop that proper response because it will hinder our thinking from the point of view of an ordinary Middle Eastern guy.

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